Our “little niche”
In a quote attributed to him in the 8/10/2019 Akron Beacon Journal, after noting that faculty tend to tend to favor the status quo, Interim President Green said that faculty “like their little niche.”
Let that settle in for a moment.
Our “little niche” is fundamentally about student success. Faculty consistently work to change and improve our curriculum–to help students get a better education and to be better prepared for life after graduation. In a typical year, UA faculty propose and implement hundreds of curriculum changes–changes that often are responses to new and emerging fields of study, critical national/local needs, or potential sources of jobs for students. Somehow, we have been able to move outside of our “little niche” to create programs in areas such as emergency management, corrosion engineering, homeland security, cyber security, social media, and biomimicry.
A case in point: less than two years after its creation, our new department of Criminal Justice Studies–an interdisciplinary collaboration of political science, sociology and criminal justice–is likely to be the second largest major in the College of Arts and Sciences. Again moving outside our “little niche,” faculty across UA recently drastically changed our required general education curriculum–literally revising hundreds of courses — to have it focus on the 21st-century skills (e.g. critical thinking, communication) that prepare students both better for the job market and to be informed, responsible citizens in a changing world.
Insisting that he had not received complaints/grievances about then Provost Rex Ramsier, Green proceeded to dismiss faculty comments from the Akron-AAUP survey about Ramsier as “grandly overstated.” In a seemingly disingenuous feat of twisted logic, Green first asserts that he hasn’t heard anything negative about Ramsier, only then to advance that anything negative he actually does hear is not worth noting. As Green well knows, all complaints from and about faculty are ultimately under the purview of Ramsier. In other words, in the current workflow pattern, all complaints about Ramsier are basically routed to Ramsier. It goes without saying that this process causes reluctance on the part of some faculty to raise concerns about Ramsier, let alone file a formal grievance.
Green, Ramsier, and Board of Trustees Chair Joe Gingo seem to have missed the essential point that the faculty attempted to make in their responses to the survey. Ramsier responds erratically, even temperamentally, to both formal grievances and to truly trivial matters. He’s mean-spirited in many situations and kind in a few others. He’s inconsistent, and that’s not how professionals should be treated, especially ones that are all working under the same collective bargaining agreement. This isn’t about “tough decisions” or being “fair minded” as Ramsier, Green and Gingo seem to suggest; rather it is about an administrator creating a hostile work environment. This is not how an effective leader behaves–especially not one who is helping to run a state university.
The Board of Trustees and the administration know that this is not the first survey that Akron-AAUP has conducted that documented serious questions about Ramsier’s performance (see the graph comparing surveys from October 2016, when Ramsier was Interim Provost, to our most recent one in March 2019). Those concerns have only intensified since he was moved from an interim to a permanent position. Also, to Ramsier’s point that the recent “split” in the provost’s role addresses our issues, he, John Green, and the Board are fully aware that many of our concerns are specifically about his involvement in activities that, according to the Board and Interim President Green, fall under the purview of Interim Chief Academic Officer Chand Midha. Ramsier’s suggestion that a new survey would find that faculty now have a different or somehow better view of his performance is so unfounded as to be either completely disingenuous or divorced from reality.
As the AAUP noted in our recent release of the March 2019 survey, 40% of respondents took the time to add a comment. A sizeable majority of the comments — sixty percent — centered on serious concerns about UA’s senior leadership — with 60% of these mentioning the “provost” or Rex Ramsier specifically. Not “hearing” these concerns produces the climate that makes faculty uncomfortable making suggestions or calling out misdeeds for fear of retribution, or furthermore certain that their earnest remarks will fall on deaf ears. Such a reality is not a model of shared governance, as required by the Higher Learning Commission (the university’s accrediting body) and for the lack thereof UA has been and is still under watch.
One additional point is worth noting: both Green and Gingo attribute part of Ramsier’s extremely poor evaluation to him having to make tough decisions–as if faculty tend categorically to reject all administrative oversight. However, our survey also requested that faculty rate their deans on the same questions that evaluated Green and Ramsier. There were enough responses for two deans: Arts and Sciences and CAST/College of Health Professions. Although faculty rated the latter quite poorly (only 21% deemed her excellent or very good, as opposed to 56% fair or poor) the interim dean of Arts and Sciences fared reasonably well (63% saw her as excellent or very good vs.15% as fair or poor). This example demonstrates that faculty clearly can and do distinguish good from poor leaders.
In conclusion, it is important to recognize that UA is a local institution that serves the local community. The administration’s mismanagement has left the University with fewer options for students, less time for professors to work one-on-one with students, and fewer resources for students when they need help. UA students and Akron as a whole deserve better.
The Executive Committee of the Akron-AAUP